CITIES OF REFUGE

Scripture Reading:  Joshua 20:1-6

“Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Say to the people of Israel, appoint the cities of refuge of which I spoke to you through Moses, that the manslayer who strikes any person without intent or unknowingly may flee there.  They shall be for you a refuge from the avenger of blood.'” (Joshua 20:1-3)

God had given instructions to Moses that six cities were to be selected as cities of refuge (Numbers 35:9-35).  Anyone who accidentally killed another person was to flee to one of these cities.  Under the law anyone who murdered someone was to be put to death.  These cities were not for those who intentionally murdered someone; they were for those who unintentionally killed another.

In ancient times if a member of a family was killed, either intentionally or unintentionally, the family appointed “an avenger of blood,” for the deceased relative.  It was the duty of the avenger of blood to find the one who killed his relative and in turn to kill the guilty party.  It was “an eye for an eye” justice system.  The only safe place for the unintentional killer was in a city of refuge.

The cities of refuge had special meaning for God’s people.  First, they emphasized the value of human life.  Men and women are created in the image of God.  Therefore human life is very valuable to God.  In fact, God established capital punishment for this very reason (Genesis 9:5,6).  But by the same principle, no one should be put to death, if that death was accidental.

Second, the cites of refuge were Levitical cities; that is, they had something to do with the sacred nature of God.  The very character of God is the basis for universal law.  Civil law was ultimately related to the existence and character of God.  The principle of justice comes from the fact that God is a just God.

These cities of refuge have particular significance for Christians today.  We know that our ultimate refuge is found in Jesus Christ.  The writer to the Hebrews may have had in mind these cities of refuge when he wrote, “We who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.  We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor or the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek”  (Hebrews 6:18-20).  Jesus is the one and only place of refuge for sinners.  He took the blow of the “avenger of blood” for us.  He became the object of God’s wrath for us, so that we will never have to experience the justice of God.  Through Jesus, we become the recipients of God’s mercy.

Lord Jesus, You are my refuge.  I am a guilty sinner who deserves God’s justice.  I have come to You who bore the wrath of God in my place.  Now I can flee to you for refuge, forgiveness, and love.  Thank You for what You have done on my behalf.

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